Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News

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On the evening of October 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States heard a startling report of a meteor strike in the New Jersey countryside. With sirens blaring in the background, announcers in the field described mysterious creatures, terrifying war machines, and thick clouds of poison gas moving toward New York City. As the invading force approached Manhattan, some listeners sat transfixed, while others ran to alert neighbors or to call the police. Some even fled their homes. But the hair-raising broadcast was not a real news bulletin-it was Orson Welles's adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds.
In Broadcast Hysteria, A. Brad Schwartz boldly retells the story of Welles's famed radio play and its impact. Did it really spawn a "wave of mass hysteria," as The New York Times reported? Schwartz is the first to examine the hundreds of letters sent to Orson Welles himself in the days after the broadcast, and his findings challenge the conventional wisdom. Few listeners believed an actual attack was under way. But even so, Schwartz shows that Welles's broadcast became a major scandal, prompting a different kind of mass panic as Americans debated the bewitching power of the radio and the country's vulnerability in a time of crisis. When the debate was over, American broadcasting had changed for good, but not for the better.
As Schwartz tells this story, we observe how an atmosphere of natural disaster and impending war permitted broadcasters to create shared live national experiences for the first time. We follow Orson Welles's rise to fame and watch his manic energy and artistic genius at work in the play's hurried yet innovative production. And we trace the present-day popularity of "fake news" back to its source in Welles's show and its many imitators. Schwartz's original research, gifted storytelling, and thoughtful analysis make Broadcast Hysteria a groundbreaking new look at a crucial but little-understood episode in American history.
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About the author

A. Brad Schwartz co-wrote an episode of the award-winning PBS series American Experience on the War of the Worlds broadcast, based in part on research for his senior thesis at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He lives in Ann Arbor.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Hill and Wang
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Published on
May 5, 2015
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Pages
352
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ISBN
9780809031634
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Performing Arts / Radio / History & Criticism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Max Allan Collins
A legendary novelist and acclaimed rising historian combine talents in this groundbreaking dual biography of Al Capone, America’s most notorious gangster, and Eliot Ness, the upright Prohibition agent who helped bring him down.

In 1929, thirty-year-old Al Capone was the undisputed king of Chicago, ruling not only the city’s gangland, but by proxy, the city’s corrupt municipal government as well. A criminal who built an empire flouting the despised Prohibition laws, Capone was popular among ordinary Chicagoans. But with the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, when his henchmen brutally murdered seven bootleggers in a Chicago garage, Capone became "Public Enemy No. 1." Overrun by gang violence, the city was in need of federal intervention—and a new hero. They found him in a young, straight-arrow federal agent named Eliot Ness—a scrupulously honest man in the most crooked city in the country.

A man of unimpeachable integrity eager to uphold the law, the twenty-seven-year-old FBI agent quickly made a name for himself—and an enemy among the local mob—conducting a series of raids and arrests around Chicago. When he was promoted to head the newly formed "Capone Squad"—the legendary band of agents known as The Untouchables—Ness set his sights on catching the biggest fish of them all.

As they tell the interlocking stories of two fascinating American icons, Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz offer not only a gripping crime read, but a probing examination of 1930s America, and two very different conceptions of the "American Dream."

Scarface and the Untouchable includes a black-and-white photo insert featuring twenty-five images.

Max Allan Collins
A legendary novelist and acclaimed rising historian combine talents in this groundbreaking dual biography of Al Capone, America’s most notorious gangster, and Eliot Ness, the upright Prohibition agent who helped bring him down.

In 1929, thirty-year-old Al Capone was the undisputed king of Chicago, ruling not only the city’s gangland, but by proxy, the city’s corrupt municipal government as well. A criminal who built an empire flouting the despised Prohibition laws, Capone was popular among ordinary Chicagoans. But with the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, when his henchmen brutally murdered seven bootleggers in a Chicago garage, Capone became "Public Enemy No. 1." Overrun by gang violence, the city was in need of federal intervention—and a new hero. They found him in a young, straight-arrow federal agent named Eliot Ness—a scrupulously honest man in the most crooked city in the country.

A man of unimpeachable integrity eager to uphold the law, the twenty-seven-year-old FBI agent quickly made a name for himself—and an enemy among the local mob—conducting a series of raids and arrests around Chicago. When he was promoted to head the newly formed "Capone Squad"—the legendary band of agents known as The Untouchables—Ness set his sights on catching the biggest fish of them all.

As they tell the interlocking stories of two fascinating American icons, Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz offer not only a gripping crime read, but a probing examination of 1930s America, and two very different conceptions of the "American Dream."

Scarface and the Untouchable includes a black-and-white photo insert featuring twenty-five images.

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